Clearing Snow: Snowblower, Snow Scoop, and Shovel

If you live in the north, you have to clear snow out of your drive- and walkways. Without paying for someone to do it, we have a few choices: snowblowers, snow scoops, and shovels. What is the real difference in terms of time and effort among these options? Leave your suggestions in the comments below, or email us.

Stage: Complete
Last Update: 03 Feb 21
Expected Completion: Spring 2021

Problem Statement

What is the comparative a) time, b) labor, c) expense, and d) other factors involved in clearing snow with a snowblower, scoop, and shovel?


Background information for each parameter and technology will be brought in.

A gallon of gas contains roughly 31,500 kcal.


The snow scoop is the best way to clear snow when all of the factors are taken into account, including the externalities of using fossil fuels.


An even amount of snow by area will be cleared using each method. Time taken and effort measured by caloric output will be measured. Qualitative assessments will be provided. Cost and other factors will be gathered from appropriate sources.


The time, labor, expense, and other factors were recorded for snowblower, scoop, and shovel.

Snowblower: 18-in-wide, single-stage Toro Power Clear® 518 ZE with a 99cc 4-cycle engine. MSRP for this machine is $479.00. Gasoline price on 7 Feb 21 is $2.464 (national average).

Snow Scoop: 24-in-wide, 45-L Garant Snow Sleigh. MSRP for this item is $49.99.

Snow Shovel: 18-in-wide Garant Nordic shovel. MSRP for this shovel is $14.99


Snow Characteristics: The snow weighed 7.65 lb per ft³ (122.5 kg per m³). The snowfall removed averaged 4 in (10 cm) deep.

Date Time (mm:ss) Exertion (kcal1) ft² cleared ft³ cleared lb cleared Joules2 J/KCal
Scoop Trial 5 Feb 21 0:18:27 183 813 271 2073 9406.41 51.40
 (corr. kcal.3: 55) (169.79)
Shovel Trial 5 Feb 21 0:25:00 300 875 292 2231 20,247.50 67.49
(corr. kcal.3: 128) (158.80)
Snow Blower Trial 5 Feb 21 0:14:01 96 813 271 2073 18,812.82 195.97
(Gas kcal.: 1250) (15.05)

1 Heart data was used to compute kcal. Heart data was recorded on a Suuntu Smart Sensor and uploaded to a Sports Tracker account, shown below.
2 A joule is simplified to the work needed to raise 100 g up 1 m (3.53 oz up 39.4 in).
3 Corrected kilocalories (“corr. kcal.”) is the recorded kcal minus 6.9 kcal per minute of labor, which is taken as the baseline kcal expenditure as measured when pushing the snow blower.

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A series of tests should be carried out and compared over multiple snowshowers for a more reliable set of data and analysis. Until that is done, these are anecdotal results that can be used to create an improved series of trials.


The bottom line is a comparing how long it takes to clear a finite amount of snow. Although we have data from a 4-in snowfall, we can extrapolate to other amounts of snow by comparing time to volume or, more accurately, weight of snow, as all snow shovelers know that all 4-in snowfalls are not the same. In this case, each square foot weighed 2.55 lb. Therefore, we moved about a ton of snow with each method: 2073 lb with snowblower (SB), 2073 lb with snow scoop (Sc.), and 2231 lb with snow shovel (Sh.). Each method required a different amount of time: 14:00 min SB, 18:27 min Sc., and 25:00 min Sh. This works out to SB: 148 lb/min SB, Sc.: 112 lb/min, and Sh.: 89 lb/min. In this comparison, SB is clearly the fastest option. To put this in perspective, for a driveway that takes 1 hr with a snowblower, one would need 19 more minutes with the scoop and 40 more minutes with the shovel. Obviously this is only a rough comparison, as different sizes and configurations of driveways may push these numbers up or down, but likely it would not change the overall interpretation except in extreme circumstances.


Labor was computed in two ways. The first is a classical physics consideration of work. In this case, work is measured in approximate Joules, which is the amount of work needed to raise 100 g  up 1 m on our planet surface (this is not a strict use of Joules; consult your local physicist). In this case, each of the snow-removal methods used different amounts of work to pile the snow. SB threw the gathered white stuff about two meters off the ground, Sc. never got above 1 m, and Sh. also threw snow about 2 m up. Instead of computing each scoop- or shovelful, we can simply multiply the total amount of snow (converted to grams) by the meters all that snow was elevated (weight [in lb] ✕ 453.6 g ✕ height [in m] ÷ 100 g = J). Therefore, the SB generated 18,812.82 J, Sc. did 9406.41 J, and Sh. did 20,247.50 J. These numbers are unsurprising, as each method moved about a ton of snow (roughly equal mass) up either one meter (Sc.) or two meters (SB and Sh.), thus the latter are about double the former. But these numbers are theoretical abstractions without understanding how much work this means for us.

We compared the caloric expenditure to carry out each type of snow clearance. This was done using a heart monitor, from which our hearbeats, age, and weight were used to calculate an approximate count of kilocalories (see more in Methodology. This is simply a uniform way to compare energetic output rather than a necessary comparison of calories in and out. When corrected to a uniform ton of snow removed, SB required only 92 kcal/ton exertion, compared to Sc.’s 177 kcal/ton and Sh.’s 269 kcal/ton. But when the gasoline is added to the SB’s caloric budget, we find that 1206 kcal/ton worth of fuel is used. When taken as an absolute amount of human effort in the field, SB is about half as energetically taxing as Sc. and a third of the rate for Sh. We’ll discuss the overall impact of gasoline below (see Other Factors) but on a purely caloric count, SB requires almost 1300 kcal/ton total, more than seven times more than Sc. and almost five times more than Sh.


This comparison is straightforward and can be split into start-up and running costs. Start up costs amount to purchasing the equipment. Additional necessary materials are the same for each method (e.g., winter clothing). SB costs $479.00. For this cost, more than nine Sc. ($49.99) and twenty-four Sh. ($14.99) could be purchased. While the lifetime of any piece of machinery varies by individual use, a modern snowblower may be expected to last 10–25 years (source and personal communication with service desk at local Ace hardware repair shop). My anecdotal experience with Sc. is that they last at least this long (my father still has one he bought in the early 1980s) — perhaps twice the lifetime of a SB. A cheap plastic shovel, such as the one here, may last a decade, based again on my anecdotal experience. For this study, we do not have the study to correct these costs for life of the item, but it is clear that the SB is many times more expensive to begin with.

Running costs also vary by person because we all value our time differently. But first let’s address gasoline and maintenance. Gas use varies according to the size of the area cleared and snowfall. For the Madison, WI area, we can expect 4.24 ft/year (source). A small one-car driveway of average length (10 50 ft = 500 ft²) would require approximately 0.32 gal/year in this area (500 ft² 4.24 ft 7.65 lb/ft³ = 16,218 lb = 8.1 tons, which needs 4 oz./ton, or 32 oz gasoline ~ 0.32 gal as 1 gal. weighs 100.8 oz)A call with my local Ace Hardware snowblower repair desk results in the estimate of $75/year maintenance plus a $100 repair in the life of a typical snowblower — we can call it $81/year by amortizing the $100 repair over the life of the machine plus gasoline. The running costs of the scoop and shovel are $0/year.

Time may be a factor for many of us. If we take the worst-case scenario: an hourly worker loses time to clear snow from his/her driveway instead of working, we can assume a $15/hr wage. To clear the 500 ft² driveway of the average Madison winter snowfall, a person would lose per year $27.40 (SB), $36.02 (Sc.), or $45.56 (8.1 ton ÷ method’s clearing rate/hr $15/hr. In this $15/hr scenario, it would take an enormous driveway to justify the cost of a snowblower:

Other Factors

This presupposes the need for a car, which is the best way to reduce your snow removal. Also, gasoline has many externalities.


The results and analyses will be put into a broader context.



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